No matter what their diagnosis is, caring for a family member is a lifelong endeavor — a labor of love— that can be as taxing on you as it is on the person you’re caring for.
That endeavor becomes even more difficult if you need to travel to make sure your family member can get the care or treatment they need. Yet, this is hardly a rare occurrence. Approximately 11 million people around the world travel to other countries to receive medical treatment.
Whether you’re traveling across the state, across the country or around the globe, what can you do to help make the process easier on you, your family and the person you’re caring for?
Learn the Language
Countries that are popular destinations for medical tourism, as it’s being called, may have plenty of fluent English speakers who can help you or answer your questions while you’re in a medical facility. What happens when you’re heading out into the city to get food or supplies, though?
Don’t rely on a phrasebook or a translation app — take some time to learn at least a little bit of the language. You don’t need to be fluent, but being conversational in the local language will make the whole ordeal a little less stressful.
Plus, you may find that the more you speak with the locals, the more fluent you become. Immersion in the language makes it easier to learn — you learn naturally, as a local child would while they were learning to speak.
Take Some Time for Yourself
This isn’t easy when you’re in a foreign country and responsible for someone who may or may not be able to care for themselves for a short period of time.
One side benefit of these trips, sometimes called “reverse medical tourism,” is being able to see the sights of whatever beautiful country you’re visiting. You might not be able to plan a whole day cruise or anything elaborate like that, but it’s still important to take a little bit of time for yourself.
Flying across the globe to seek medical treatment for someone you’re caring for is an expensive proposition, so it’s important to research everything before you get on that plane. Look into the credentials and licensing for the doctor you’re planning to see. The medical standards may not be the same as they would be in Western hospitals.
Also, research the infection rate for the facilities where your family member may be undergoing procedures. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are more common in facilities outside the United States, according to the CDC, so if a surgical procedure is in the plans, it’s important to ensure you take all the steps possible to avoid coming into contact with these bacteria.
Pack Light but Don’t Forget the Important Stuff
In the United States, the majority of medical professionals have transitioned to the use of electronic health records — digital charts rather than old-school paperwork. While this helps to streamline medical care and billing in the States, these records may not be accessible to physicians overseas. Make sure you pack all medical records and applicable medical paperwork.
If you’re worried about the weight of your luggage — because we all know how expensive checked baggage fees can be when you’re traveling overseas — make sure to get a digital copy of your files and carry them in that format on a hard drive or USB flash drive. This is also safer for things like films or X-rays, so you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged or crimped during the flight.
On the same note, get copies of all medical records generated while you’re overseas before you head back home. Your U.S. based doctor likely won’t have access to those files, so it’s important to bring them back with you.
Be Prepared to Stay a While
Recovery times will vary depending on your family member and the procedure or surgery you’re traveling so far for. You should be prepared to stay as long as necessary to ensure their recovery is going well and that it is safe to travel.
If the procedure you’re traveling for includes a surgery, it may require a longer stay. Flying in the first four weeks after surgery increases the risk of blood clots, which can be a dangerous complication for someone trying to recover from a medical procedure. The risk goes up if the surgery was done on the legs or below the waist.
Be Aware of Currency
Most insurance companies will not pay for procedures done overseas, though they may reimburse you for it once you return home. You will likely be required to pay for the procedure out of pocket, so make sure you have plenty of the correct currency. Currency exchanges will vary depending on the day.
When it comes down to it, even if you’ve got beaches and mojitos waiting for you, this will likely be a stressful trip and it may push you to the very limits of your ability. The key is not to panic — this is to help someone you love, so if you remember that, everything else will just fall into place.
Caring for someone else isn’t an easy thing, especially if you’re trying to do it halfway around the world. Take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing this — caring for someone is a labor of love in every sense of the phrase.
Image by Oles kanebckuu
Kayla Matthews writes about medical technologies and news developments for publications like The Week, BioMed Central and Kareo’s Go Practice Blog. To read more posts by Kayla, visit her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her website: http://productivitybytes.com.